Stateization of public activism taking place in Russia
President Putin decided to award millions to human rights defenders against the background of the ongoing attack on "foreign agents" including a number of human rights NGOs. Human rights activists fear of the possibility of being smothered in the embraces of such prizes.
Draft presidential decree on the approval of new annual awards for achievements in human rights and charitable activities was presented by the Ministry of Justice on September 3. According to the document, the annual State Prize of $ 2.5 million rubles "for outstanding achievements in human rights activities" will be awarded for activities "aimed at protecting human and civil rights and freedoms, as well as strengthening and development of the institutions of civil society".
Candidates for the prize will be offered to the president by a public commission, approved by the presidential administration. Various civil society institutions, non-profit organizations and ordinary citizens will also be able to offer candidacies, but these proposals will still pass through the filter of this public commission, which, through a secret ballot, will decide whom to recommend to the President. It is expected that the first prize will be awarded in 2015.
Among the human rights community there is no single position in the assessment of the state human rights prize.
Head of the Council on Human Rights and Civil Society Development Mikhail Fedotov
says that the most important thing is this respect is a "real acting mechanism for selecting suitable candidates": "Let's see in which form the decree will be signed by the president". He assured kommersant.ru, that even GULag was unable to make human rights activists dependent. "Human rights activism is incredibly important, it should be taken to a new level,” stated to the edition the Commissioner for Human Rights, Ella Pamfilova. “Let's hope that the award will not smother human rights defenders in its embrace".
According to Director of the Fund "Public Verdict" Natalia Tovbina, the presidential decree is unlikely to seriously affect the human rights work in Russia, because this activity is based directly on the needs of citizens in the observance of human rights and doesn't depend on the receipt of any awards from the state. However, as said by her, at present the state largely limits the ability of human rights organizations in addressing human rights issues. "All well-known human rights organizations, which have already proven themselves over many years of work as those that really help people in upholding human rights, are recognized by Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor's Office as foreign agents with all the ensuing consequences,” pointed the human rights defender in an interview to polit.ru. “This seriously affects their ability to outreach, the attitude towards them of the society and the officials with whom they need to work to achieve more favorable conditions for the protection of human rights."
The Director of the Institute of Human Rights Valentin Gefter has an "ambiguous attitude" to this initiative. He thinks that the recognition of the importance activism is a positive moment, but believes that it would be more fitting to create a fund, so that the government could make a contribution without awarding the prizes itself. “However, we are always looking for simple solutions. Stateization of public activities is taking place here,” stated Mr. Gefter in an interview to kommersant.ru.
In July, Vladimir Putin ordered to allocate one billion rubles for-profit organizations involved "in the development of civil society and conduct of social projects", the newspaper reminds. And in January, the president signed a decree on the allocation of 2.69 billion rubles to NGOs on the results of the competition, in two stages - before July 1 and November 3. This month, the Ministry of Justice has also published of public discussion the draft amendments to the governmental regulation about the state supervision over the activities of NGOs, which establishes the legal rights of this body to conduct additional unscheduled inspections and putting NGOs on the register of “foreign agents” without a court verdict.